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Devils In Detail - Juniors & Sophomore
 
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Previewing Xavier at Duke
By Rob Clough
December 20, 2010

#4 Musketeers vs. #3 Blue Devils is Top Cameron Non-Conf Game of Year


Xavier -- Tuesday, December 21, 7:00 PM, Cameron Indoor Stadium

2010 Snapshot: 30-4, 14-0 Atlantic 10, Atlantic 10 champions, NCAA Elite Eight

Current Records: Duke 11-0, Xavier 10-0

Current Rankings: Duke #3, Xavier #4 (updated)

Significant Losses: The Musketeers lost seven players, but only two of note. Wing April Phillips was a starter who averaged 9 ppg, 6 rpg, and 1.5 apg. She was a classic slasher who went to the foul line 105 times. Her backup, Dee Dee Jernigan, put up 5 ppg, 4 rpg and 2 apg.

Who's Coming Back: Xavier returns four starters led by the senior All-America frontcourt of Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips. The 6-6 Harris is an inside-outside force who averaged 16 ppg, 9 rpg, 2 apg and 2 bpg. The 6-4 Phillips was the team's inside force, averaging 14 ppg, 12 rpg, 2 bpg and 4 FTA. With Harris sometimes in the high post and Phillips in the low post, Xavier presents a devastating frontcourt attack. Harris will even occasionally pop out and take a three. Point guard Special Jennings put up 8 ppg, 2 rpg, 4.5 apg and 37.5% from three. Guard Tyeasha Moss weighed in with 8 ppg, 3 rpg, 1 apg and 33% 3FG. Guard Katie Rutan averaged 9 ppg, 1 rpg and 40.5% shooting from three (hitting 85 of them!). Also coming off the bench was Megan Askew (2 ppg).

The Skinny: The Musketeers will present a unique challenge for Duke as one of the few teams that have more size (and certainly more skilled size) than the Blue Devils. Xavier has played a solid schedule this year, demolishing the likes of South Carolina, Louisville and Michigan. Their problem of late has been an injury to sharpshooter Rutan, who sat out six games. As a result, Xavier's shooting and scoring have both decreased. Indeed, USC had them on the ropes until the final minute of the game, when USC committed some errors and Xavier capitalized. The reason why Xavier has struggled in her absence should be obvious: without a deadeye shooter (she was shooting 50% from three on 20 attempts in just 3 games) knocking down shots, Xavier is far more vulnerable to a zone. Jennings is shooting well (50%) from long range, but her role in initating the offense doesn't make her an ideal zone buster. Moss is shooting just 31% from long range, a percentage that most teams have been willing to gamble on. Rutan played in Xavier's recent win over Mississippi State, playing 12 minutes and hitting a three. She will likely come off the bench for Xavier, but it remains to be seen how effective she will be.

Whatever potential shooting problems Xavier might have, Duke will almost certainly come out in their base man-to-man pressure defense. The Devils will try to speed up the game in order to get Xavier out of their comfort zone, although this doesn't mean Duke should let them do whatever they want in transition. Moss (10 ppg), Jennings (8 ppg) and Askew (8 ppg) have all proven that they can finish and get to the foul line. Ideally, Xavier would prefer a halfcourt affair, running their offense through Harris first and foremost. I'm guessing that Krystal Thomas will start on her, but Krystal has to be ready to chase her up into the high post, from where Harris will set up to launch shots. When she perceives a matchup down low, she's happy to post up (she's a noted dunker) to get an easy shot or get fouled. Having Phillips around means there's another post target to get close-in shots (Phillips is shooting 60% from the floor) and grab offensive rebounds (5 a game!). Coach McCallie may switch things up and have the quicker Kathleen Scheer or Allison Vernerey guard Harris and leave Phillips to the more physical Thomas.

A zone essentially takes Phillips out of the picture on offense, but makes her much more dangerous as an offensive rebounder. It also makes their shooters all the more dangerous if Duke doesn't close out on them (especially in the corners). Xavier protects the rim well (5 blocks a game) but they don't represent the menacing threat of a Brittney Griner. Still, Duke can't bring anything weak into the paint or else one of the Harris/Phillips tandem will swat it away (2 blocks per game apiece). Xavier doesn't force a lot of turnovers but only turns it over themselves 15 times a game. This is why forcing tempo could be a key for Duke; if Xavier is out of their comfort zone, their entire offense could suffer.

The Musketeers have good depth, though that will be tested if Rutan is still unavailable to play. Frosh Lynette Holmes is solid at guard with 6 ppg, frosh center Sabrina Johnson can play a few minutes in a pinch (2 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and Tennessee transfer wing Amber Gray is just getting her legs under her, averaging 5 ppg and 2 rpg. Frosh point guard Ashley Wanninger's 2:1 assist/turnover ratio shows that she can run the team if needed. That said, look for Xavier to use its top 6 players for as long as they can get away with. If the Devils can get anyone in foul trouble, it will start to limit the Musketeers. If one of those players is a big, then Duke will have the opportunity to build a lead.

Ultimately, the burden in this game falls on Duke's post players. If Krystal Thomas, Kathleen Scheer, Allison Vernerey and Haley Peters can force Harris & Phillips into inefficient games, Duke will win. This doesn't necessarily mean scoring a ton of points, but rather preventing Harris from getting comfortable and relocating shots out to the perimeter with her passes. It means allowing no layups but rather forcing these two low-sixties foul shooters to prove themselves at the line. It means not being in a position where Duke has to foul; make Phillips & Harris take contested jumpers. It means hands have to be up at all times.

In the backcourt, Xavier has talent but no one at Jasmine Thomas's potentially transcendent level. They also don't have a great matchup for Karima Christmas. As long as the bigs keep things relatively even, it will allow the guards to go to work. Look for Chelsea Gray to shoot over or post up Jennings, given her 5 inch height advantage. Her creativity could be another important advantage, preventing Xavier from simply settling into a zone of their own. Speaking of which, if Duke can find a way to work Tricia Liston into the lineup, that would go a long way to wiping out potential zone roadblocks; she could even guard Askew.

This is another special opportunity for Duke to match up against the sort of team they won't see in the ACC but could see again in the NCAA tournament. It's a chance for the team to see who's capable of making plays against the toughest of opponents. We'll see how focused and prepared Duke is playing just three days after the end of finals. The team does usually practice a little during finals, but I imagine Sunday and Monday will be huge preparation days. If Rutan is ready to play and can contribute, Xavier may have a slight edge in this game. Otherwise, home court should allow the Devils to win.

   
  • Duke's bigs in foul trouble.

 






Devils In Detail - Juniors & Sophomore
 
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